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[Barthes, 1971]

What we are pointing at in this text is the possibility that not only interpretation (in the sense that Barthes talks about it) is about operating the (musical) text. Also composition and the processes unleashed by the `thinking through hearing', is about operating the inner text of the imagination of the music. Furthermore, we argue that this is an activity that, not only in collaborative projects, is performed in negotiations between multiple agents.

In a study performed by the authors using the theory and method developed in this paper the following conclusions were drawn4:

  1. Composition may be regarded as a complex interaction between esthesic and poietic processes.
  2. Performers may similarly be said to oscillate between these two modes of artistic activity.
By examining one particular event in one of the empirical studies mentioned above we will now try to elaborate on these conclusions and attempt to contextualize the reasoning in section 3.1. The event is taken from a video documented session with Swedish composer Love Mangs and guitarist Stefan Östersjö in which they are working on Viken, a composition for guitar and electronics. The session took place less than two months before the premiere of the piece. S.Ö. has improvised and notated a short musical fragment and L.M. is trying to make S.Ö. to shape the melody differently by introducing the notion of a fermata. At this point the roles are seemingly swapped; the performer is notating music and the composer is thinking about the interpretation of this musical fragment.

On his esthesic perception of the melody as it is defined by S.Ö., L.M. presumably wishes for a certain passage to be extended in time. At first his suggestion about the fermata is not clearly understood by S.Ö. The situation and the following communication indicates that L.M. isn't really interested in a fermata in the classical sense - he is merely interested in a different rhythmic contour of the melody. (This confusion is likely to be one of the reasons his message is not being comprehended by S.Ö.)

What follows is a negotiation between the two agents to establish the meaning of the message `a fermata'. In this process they are both active in the esthesic domain. However, if we move to a lower level of analysis the suggested fermata can be seen as a poietic process introduced by L.M., the meaning of which is being determined by S.Ö. in an esthesic process. The importance here is not, not in this paper nor in the session analyzed, to establish the denotation of the musical term fermata. Different musical performance traditions will always hold different signifiers to the idea of the fermata. But to fully understand the signifier of the idea of the fermata in the context of Viken as the idea is put forward by Love Mangs, we need to understand what is signified by it independently of the poietic (and esthesic) processes that led to its inclusion, as well as in relation to the (sub)cultural context of the collaboration between S.Ö. and L.M. This is what Eco would call the `cultural history' and the `philological aspect' respectively both pointing at the code used to encode the message [Eco, 1971, pp. 154-5]. In this short example it is interesting to note that the receiver as well as the sender is active in working out the code used to encode as well as decode the message ('a fermata'). This 'working out' of the code is the process that in effect leads to the abstract definition of the cultural entity, the subculture, that becomes the referent of the musical work in question. At the end of this process of negotiation a mutual understanding of the function of the fermata in this specific context is established (which actually goes well beyond the specific meaning of the symbol `fermata').

This session is also a useful example of how interpretative processes of several kinds overlap and interact. When using improvisation to develop new material it is evident that a greater part of the hermeneutic processes are performed by various modes of `thinking through practice'. However, as soon as notation is introduced, also analytical modes of thinking make their way into the continuous performing and listening of the two agents.

We suggest that musical interpretation can be divided into two kinds, one based on language and analytical modes of thinking, the other based on thinking-through-practice. According to Ricur, the act of writing detaches the writer from the meaning of the text and our claim is that this also applies to the act of writing a musical score. Vaggione's notion of action/perception feedback loops captures a characteristic feature of the composer's practice. This kind of 'thinking-through-practice' on the part of the composer may be described as made up of mutually interactive poietic and esthesic processes. We suggest this may be regarded as a hermeneutic process making up a parallel species of interpretation at play in the production of musical content. These various interpretative modes is what we refer to as `thinking-through-practice'. Finally, the combined efforts of all the agents involved in the construction of the musical work creates the (sub)cultural entity that signifies that work.

From the above discussion of the ontology of the musical work and the function of musical interpretation in the production of musical content we make the following claims:

  1. Musical interpretation can be divided into two kinds: `thinking-through-practice' and analytic (critical) interpretation.
  2. Interpretation plays a crucial role in the practice of both the composer and performer.

In this paper we have presented a method for performing studies on the low level processes in the production of musical content. We have showed how the perhaps somewhat dated and endlessly debated semiological terminology by Molino and Nattiez may still prove to be helpful at bridging the gap between disparate activities in the field of musical production. The complex web of actions by several agents in the production of musical content demands that the methods used be flexible and responsive to the multiple layers of musical practice. Though our proposed method needs to be thoroughly evaluated and tested in practice it is our hope that these first steps taken will prove useful for further development.

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Next: Bibliography Up: EMS - Beijing 2006 Previous: Musical semiology   Contents   Index
Henrik Frisk, Stefan Ostersjo